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September 22, 2010

Study says merit pay for teachers doesn't work

A new study out of Vanderbilt University says that offering merit pay to teachers doesn't improve student performance. The debate over pay for performance is a hot topic these days as the state and local school systems grapple with how to evaluate teachers and whether excellence in the classroom should be given monetary rewards.

The National Education Association put out a press release touting the results today and saying that this proves that finding answers to student achievement is more complicated than paying teachers more for increased test scores.

In the study by the National Center on Performance Incentives, teachers were given $5,000, $10,000 and $15,000 bonuses based on whether they could get their student test scores up a certain percentage over a specific period of time.  The outcome showed the extra pay did not improve achievement.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:57 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Around the Nation


BS paper article @ Study says merit pay for teachers doesn't work

Matt Springer, teachers who participated in the study and TN Commissioner of Education Tim Webb:

It would be great if people stopped blaming teachers for everything and stopped assuming that if teachers were offered extra money we would do a better job. It would be AMAZING if someone for once assumed that we are doing our best, and that we're doing a great job. Rarely do people get excited about working in challenging schools. My school has a high teacher turn around due to a high stress environment. Link money to test scores then even less people will want to work at my school. The people who come up with these 'incentives' and who are trying to change teacher evaluations need to come to my school and work in my classroom for a day in order to gain a realistic perspective.

Once again proving that you can't solve problems by throwing money at them... I am Jack's complete lack of surprise.

This should be no surprise for those of us in the classroom. Money is not the issue. I am working as hard as I can right now. If I am giving 100 percent, a bonus will not make any difference as there is nothing more than 100 percent to give. Give us clerical support. If the bonus money was spent to pay for departmental secretaries who could contact homes when children are absent, send letters, file documentation, photocopy assignments, etc, etc. we would be freed up to put our efforts into instruction. The paperwork that teachers have to do is unbelievable. In my previous career I had a secretary and I can honestly tell you that the paperwork I do everyday would have overwhelmed her.

This Baltimore County teacher would be pleased if the superintendent showed respect and support for the work of teachers. I became a teacher because I wanted to serve the community and share a passion for learning with kids. I see it as an awesome responsibility and can honestly say giving me more money would not make me work any harder or differently. I do wish that the superintendent would demonstrate that he values educators. My superintendent is far more concerned with his own publicity...even if it is generated based on untruths.

What if we turned this discussion a little? Plenty of City Schools teachers already give 100% so no, offering more money wouldn't necessarily make us work any harder. But it would address the fact that many hard-working teachers make tons less money than their less-successful counterparts.

And I doubt anyone would argue teachers are underpaid - so if there's a smart way to offer bonuses, shouldn't we do it? If it were sustainable to raise a family on a teacher's salary, wouldn't more teachers stay?

I've got to agree with Campbell, why get defensive about getting higher pay? In our society, if you want to prove that a job is important and worthy of respect, most people will look at the pay check. I think big across the board pay increases would do a lot to change perceptions. I read an interesting article about Finnish Education which seemed to point to the fact that Finnish teachers are held in very high regard as one of the reasons that their schools are so successful. I don't think that's an insulting idea. If a profession is held in high regard you should expect secretarial and administrative support. That's what comes with respect.

One of the caveats in the study that this post references was that the point of the experiment was to see short term changes in specific individuals, not to make big systemic changes. The very pinpointed bonuses based on specific test results didn't work mainly because, according to the teachers involved, the method of judging teachers was flawed. So come up with a better way to judge successful teachers.

As many have stated in the past, a major problem with the concept of merit pay is the question of metrics - how do we determine if a teacher is actually outperforming his or her peers? Most advocate using test scores - this idea is flawed because student performance is a function of far too many factors. My daughter attends a very high performing BCPS school and quite frankly, most of her teachers are pathetic. She will perform because I am a teacher and I am literally reteaching her at home. There are great teachers in low performing schools that would never be recognized because they simply don't have parents that can make up for classroom deficits. In addition, if a student fails to perform in a subject like science, it could be attributed to poor reading instruction by an entirely different teacher.

If you want teachers to improve, the solution is a solid system of evaluation, feedback and effective professional development.

Why does higher pay automatically mean higher respect? Do we really respect bankers and hedge fund people all that much? Personally, I think they are rather sleazy.

I'm not against higher pay for teachers, but why should we encourage any system that pits teacher against teacher? We work in a cooperative place-- our students succeed because we work together in their interest, and they fail when we don't. The Los Angeles Times just found out that the distribution of 'good' and 'bad' teachers was about the same regardless of whether the schools were 'good' or 'bad.' That means that while teacher quality may mean a student leaps ahead or falls behind, a teacher still has less to do with a good education than school quality, since some of these schools have 90% college entry rates, and others have 50% drop-out rates. Or-- put in terms of the more familiar cliche-- we are only as good as our weakest link.

Merit pay would encourage teachers to kick all the 'bad' kids, i.e. the ones that don't score well, out of their rooms into the classroom down the hall to make their own scores look better. The more conniving teachers-- the ones who might last a while on TV shows like 'Survivor' might in this scenario get the merit pay. The teachers who care about teaching kids would probably be screwed financially. (Although they'd face a wonderful yearly challenge in incuding kids dumped by so-and-so down the hall, and many trips to the dentist to deal with those ground up teeth due to so-and-so's higher salary.)

Also, every time the school system's budget gets cut, rather than contending with unions over cutting teacher salaries to tighten belts, a merit pay system would allow the schools to simply ratchet up the requirements for merit pay. By making the qualifications more difficult, the system can save more money. A few people would always get paid a lot, (and maybe get a nice puff piece written about them in the Baltimore Sun) but the majority of teachers would lose. This is a classic tactic. By buying out a few greedy teachers, and scape-goating the rest, corporations intent on taking over the public schools and running them 'like businesses' can turn teaching from the highly esteemed career it once was into a stop-over between college and law school. Who wins? Well-- obviously-- the businesses, who don't have to pay people more than a junior intern salary because no one is going to last longer than that. Not kids, that's for sure. But teaching will always look good on those law-school applications.

Read "Drive" by Daniel Pink
merit pay is a bad idea

In any activity, there is both the performer and there is also the "opportunity to perform." Most education reform ideas simply look at the performer, in this instance the teacher. There is also the opportunity to perform, the enivironment in which the performer will do his/her thing. Imagine a Ferrari as the performer and the road as the opportunity to perform. If the road is not paved and has potholes and crevices, the car will not perfom well. There are even some roads on which a mountain bike will out perform a Ferrari. What most educational reforms ignore is the aspect of the opportunity to perform. How this is translated into school reform is that we are not examining the condition in which teachers are asked to perform. This would include an examination of the curricula we are often mandated to teach or the lack of materials including poor computers, appropriate books, not to mention the amount of time spent teaching to some mandated test. It might include laws that actually prevent schools from placing chronically disruptive students in more appropraite envirnments. It might include students who come to school hungry, emotionally scarred or trained to only comply to rules when a "beating" is applied.

As a teacher, I resent the implication that I am not working hard. Part of the problem is that the American answer to a problem is the capitalistic solution.

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